Bill O'Brien: 'We'll still be on double-secret probation'

Lucia Sofo/Daily Collegian
Penn State coach Bill O’Brien has managed to keep the Nittany Lions together, despite the turmoil and crippling sanctions surrounding the program. Buy this photo

By Zach Helfand, Daily Sports Editor
Published October 10, 2013

The bite of the NCAA sanctions may finally be catching up to Penn State as it prepares for Michigan a week after losing to Indiana for the first time in program history. Still, what the Nittany Lions have been able to accomplish in nearly a season and a half is somewhat remarkable.

That’s largely a credit to coach Bill O’Brien, who has kept his team together amid chaos. The worst may soon be over — the NCAA announced it would loosen some sanctions, and starting next year, Penn State will regain five scholarships a year. Before then, The Michigan Daily sat down with O’Brien at Big Ten Media Days to talk sanctions, Big Ten expansion and the Michigan game.

The Michigan Daily: How much do you stay in contact with Tom Brady, and will there be anything special between you two before the Michigan game?

Bill O’Brien: I’m sure he’ll be rooting for Michigan. But I stay in touch with Tom, he’s a good friend, he’s a great guy. Text message a lot. He’s a busy guy, I’m a busy guy, but I definitely stay in touch. But when we play Michigan, I will remind him, though, that he said that Beaver Stadium was the loudest stadium he ever played in. And I’m sure it will be loud that night.

TMD: This is your first game against Michigan and Penn State’s first since 2010. What’s the significance of resuming this matchup?

BOB:First of all, Brady Hoke, I think, is one of the best coaches in the country. So it’s going to be great to have his team at Penn State. To me that’s one of those games that college football is all about. I wished you played that type, you know, Michigan, every year. Penn State-Michigan in the new divisions, we will play quite a bit. It’s just a great rivalry. Two programs that are traditional programs. Like I’ve said a million times, I have a ton of respect for Brady Hoke and what he does. He’s a coach that I’ve always looked up to, and I think we run our programs in similar ways, so it’ll be a challenge, definitely a challenge.

TMD: Similar how?

BOB: Just we both believe that football is played by tough guys and smart guys and good guys.

TMD: Has expansion affected Penn State and the Big Ten at all yet?

BOB: I don’t know. I don’t see that yet. No I don’t see that. I think as it relates to our program, we’ve always recruited that area, Baltimore, D.C., and New Jersey. So we’ve been there anyway. Now we’re able to say to a young man, ‘Hey look we’re going to play Rutgers and Maryland, so there’s another game your parents can come watch you play.’ I do think it makes us much more of a national conference, and I think that time will show that. Not right now, obviously because like I said you’re out to Colorado, you’re up to Canada, and now you’re the East Coast so obviously the TV’s a big deal, TV money and all the games on TV. I just think that once we start playing in that new expanded conference, and we play more night games and different rivalries will be created, I think that’s where you’ll really see the effect of expansion.

TMD: What about expansion’s effect on Penn State’s recruiting on the East Coast?

BOB: We’ve always recruited against them. You know, since I’ve been here. I say ‘we’ve always,’ as if I’ve been here for 50 years. I’m just saying in the last 20 months, we’ve recruited against them quite a bit. And I’m sure that they say now ‘Hey look we’re gonna be in the Big Ten. We’re gonna play games at Penn State, at Michigan, at Ohio State.’ But what we say to them is look, we’re only about a three and a half hour drive from where you’re at. And we have a great school. And again it comes down to a great fit. If a guy’s looking at Maryland, Rutgers and Penn State, he’s going to pick the school that he fits best at. What we do in recruiting is we really just talk about Penn State. We don’t really get into talking about a bunch of other schools. I don’t know enough about them.

TMD: How must the Big Ten adapt do catch up to the top of the SEC?

BOB: I think now that expansion is in place and we go to the divisions in another year, I think you’ll see — and you’ve got the final four now, the playoff system — I think you’ll see, not Penn State because we’ll still be on, you know, double-secret probation. But you’ll see some of the other schools scheduling-wise, what they’ll probably do is schedule a marquee game, schedule maybe a game they believe they can win, and schedule a medium marquee game if that makes sense, so that when it comes time for the 12-0 team to be chosen to go to the final four, they’ve got — strength of schedule is going to be a big part of that. So I don’t know what other teams, I would just assume that you will see more SEC vs. Big Ten early in the season, Big Ten vs. Big 12, Big Ten vs. Pac 12 in the years to come.